Fall, or Dodge in Hell (by Neal Stephenson)

Apparently a psychopath feels negative emotions such as fear or disappointment only slightly, but experiences the highs of (say) skinning people so very much that he or she continues to take risks which neuro-normals wouldn’t countenance. Clearly, having learned so little from the decidedly negative emotions I suffered upon reading Seveneves and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., and being so ridiculously hopeful that the latest Neal Stephenson novel will be another Snow Crash,  I must be a psychopath.

Again: Great idea – Drab execution. Richard Forthrast, billionaire (previously met in Reamde) has instructed that, upon death, his remains are to be treated in such a manner that, when possible, he shall be brought back to life.  The scientific means develop from chopping heads off and putting them in the freezer with the pies, to the ionisation of the cells of the brain, and Forthrast gets ionised.  His “programme” is booted up, and he enters the cyber afterlife.

This is food for thought, and Stephenson chews it. The beginning of the book (when this happens), and the occasional returns to the dilemmas faced by the foundation which Forthrast created to support the digitally resurrected, are the best parts of the book. The treatment of Forthrast’s return to consciousness, fundamentally influenced by his life as a video game developer, is top-notch Stephenson. The creation of the digital afterlife, “Bitworld” (which, via a sort of hologram, can be viewed by those still in “Meatworld”) is top-notch Stephenson.  The problems raised about energy, memory and and identity – gold Stephenson.

But. It all spirals and noodles and meanders into a baffling battle in Meatworld between the various foundations interested in the afterlife business. There’s a road trip which only exists to show us what the USA might become. Bitworld turns into a deathly dull analogy of the Bible or Paradise Lost and then an astoundingly dreary Tolkien Quest leavened with heavy heavy doses of geography. Finally there’s a massive battle and….who cares? There is a great deal of expository dialogue and (a pet peeve here at TVC) a lot of it is accompanied by shrugs, shrugs, shrugs and sighs, sighs, sighs.

The plot holes are too tedious this time to even mention, except for one – no spoiler here, it’s right at the beginning and it’s the initiating event – Richard Forthrast, the brilliant billionaire dies because he chooses not to tell anyone at a medical clinic that he has eaten, (when he was supposed to be fasting), despite signs at the clinic reminding him to. [It’s “The Verdict” all over again – Ed.] What a waste. Of Stephenson’s talents.

** [2 Stars]



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